Friday, March 1, 2019

The neo-liberals want to remove Eva Peron's image from the Buenos Aires skyline, but her image and legacy can never be removed from the hearts of workers and the poor

(To the right, Eva Perón, in 1952, greeting her followers but in such ill health her husband Juan  Perón has to brace her)

Eva Duarte Perón, also known as Evita, still hovers over the city skyline of Buenos Aires as well as in the minds of millions of the porteños who live there. The former actress, born out of wedlock in a poor, remote village, who became the First Lady of Argentina during the reign of Juan Perón from 1946 to 1955, was “more Peronist than Perón himself,” as writer Joseph A. Page once said.

Well, Darío Lopérfido, longtime cultural arbiter, artistic director at the Teatro Colón and the nation’s former Secretary of Culture and Communications, has called for the removal of Evita’s image from the high-rise Edificio del Ministerio de Obras Públicas (Ministry of Public Works building) in the heart of Buenos Aires.

(Eva's image on the Edificio del Ministerio de Obras Públicas in Buenos Aires. A photograph I took during a visit in 2015)

“It is a fascist symbol,” Lopérfido proclaimed in television interviews and elsewhere. “It is comparable to Stalinism. Peronism is a political travesty.”

Certainly Lopérfido’s campaign brings a smile to the face of Mauricio Macri, Argentine’s neo-liberal, Big Business-loving, union-baiting leader since 2015, a darling of Trump-world regime-changers whose minions have done their best to put his predecessor, Peronist Christina Fernández de Kirchner in prison. This is classic Latin American right-wing politics—win election and then get your rival behind bars, kind of like what presidential candidate Donald Trump wanted to do to Hillary Clinton once elected.

Eva Perón remains an unforgettable presence in Argentine history and one of the most dynamic women on the world political stage in her time, and perhaps any time. From her humble origins, she rose to be a major power behind the throne of her husband, an affable-but-politically unreliable colonel who had studied and served in Mussolini’s fascist Italy but rose to power in Argentina as a pro-union hero of the working class. Evita loved her husband desperately but made sure he kept his commitments to the workers, the “descamisados” (shirtless ones) who had rarely had much of a voice in Argentine politics with its ruling oligarchy of wealthy industrialists and cattle barons.

“I love the descamisados, the women, the workers of my people too much,” she wrote in her book and deathbed testimonial Mi Mensaje (My Message), “and, by extension, I love all the world’s exploited people, condemned to death by imperialisms and the privileges of land ownership, too much. The suffering of the poor, the humble, the great pain of so much of humanity without sun and without sky hurts me too much to keep quiet.”

She put action to her words. She established a foundation that helped build 12 hospitals, a thousand schools, medical centers, clinics, transit homes for the homeless, homes for abandoned children, homes for the elderly. She helped secure the vote for the women of Argentina. Days on end, she personally met with endless lines of the poor who came to her with their cries and pleas. They called her “The Workers Plentipotentiary”,  “The Lady of Hope”, and, though childless herself, the “Mother of the Innocents”.

Beautiful but frail in health, she was destined for a short life, but she never gave up her fight and her ferocious war against the “oligarchy”, a term that became a curse word in her mouth, and she could indeed be ferocious and authoritarian in her attacks on her enemies. She died of cancer in 1952 at the age of 33. Her body was later stolen and not return to her husband until many years later.

Peronism remains a strong political force in Argentina today, and its pro-working class ideals owe more to Evita’s legacy than that of her husband.

Still, her enemies, both in Argentina and beyond, would love to destroy her memory. It’s an old story. 

Argentina’s most famous writer, the aristocratic, conservative, virulently anti-Peronist Jorge Luis Borges, called Evita a “common prostitute,” echoing the widespread mantra of the anti-Peronists that the literati all too readily embraced. “She was the macho’s ideal victim-woman—don’t those red lips still speak to the Argentine macho of her reputed skill in fellatio?” V.S. Naipaul once wrote from his Olympian heights in the world of distinguished writers.

She was the woman “who tamed El Presidente with sexual skills learned on her knees in a hundred waterfront bars,” reads the back cover of Paul L. Montgomery’s 1979 biography Eva, Evita: The Life of Eva Perón. Even Mike Wallace, the USA’s premier investigative TV reporter-celebrity, skewered her as having “the ruthlessness of a demagogue” in an ill-informed, distorted broadcast decades ago that surely won a stamp of approval from the CIA and Republican establishment in Washington, D.C. The 1996 film Evita starring Madonna bought into this image of Eva Perón.

If the real-life image of Evita does indeed come down from the Edificio del Ministerio de Obras Públicas, the neo-liberals undoubtedly will uncork their champagne and celebrate, but the poor and the working class of Argentina will know she lives on in their hearts. That’s something beyond the power of the oligarchy’s cranes and bulldozers.

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